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 CNS Story:

SUDAN-CLEANSING Aug-16-2004 (540 words) xxxi

Bishop says 'no question' violence in Darfur is ethnic cleansing

By Stephen Steele

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairman of the U.S. bishops' international policy committee said there was "no question" that the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan represented ethnic cleansing.

Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., told Catholic News Service that the Sudanese government is engaged in a policy to Arabize and Islamize the population.

"This clearly is an example of ethnic cleansing, no question," he said.

Bishop Ricard, who met with displaced persons in Darfur during an Aug. 1-5 visit to Sudan, said a small contingent of African Union troops that arrived in Darfur in mid-August will do little to protect civilians from further violence.

"The issue of persecution of these people is very real. They are still under attack by the Janjaweed militia or the government forces themselves," the bishop said.

"It's still very unsafe for them to return home," he said.

The bishop told CNS in a telephone interview Aug. 16 that refugees have reported being attacked by government aircraft once they return to their homes, so they are forced to flee again.

"Many of these people will surely die -- children, old people -- because they have nothing to go to; they have no protection," he said.

Since the outbreak of militia attacks more than a year ago, about 200,000 people have fled Darfur to refugee camps in neighboring Chad. About 1.2 million are displaced within the Darfur region.

Rebel groups in Darfur rose up against the government last year, accusing the government of oppressing black Africans in favor of Arabs. Local disputes over scarce grazing lands also have fueled the conflict. While both groups are Muslim, black Africans are primarily farmers, while the Arabs are nomadic herdsmen, which has brought the two groups into conflict over access to land and water resources.

An estimated 30,000-50,000 people have died in militia attacks or from starvation or other causes related to their displacement. According to a recent estimate by the U.S. Agency for International Development, another 350,000 are likely to die unless they receive immediate assistance.

Bishop Ricard told CNS that Sudanese officials told him the violence was caused by the rebel groups, who are fighting the Khartoum government over Darfur's oil reserves.

"Even if this was true, the government's response was way out of proportion -- targeting civilians and removing people from their villages," he said.

"This is another way of eliminating people through displacement," he said.

The bishop also called on U.S. Catholics to actively support a special collection for Sudan being held in parishes throughout the United States Aug. 22. The collection will be administered by Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency, and will support fledgling CRS operations in Darfur.

The bishop said the church will continue lobbying for the opening of humanitarian aid corridors in Darfur. The distribution of aid has been hampered by a lack of security in the region.

In late July, the U.S. Congress called the violence in Darfur genocide and urged the Bush administration to do the same. A subsequent report by the European Union said there was no evidence of genocide in Darfur.

Also in late July, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington issued a "genocide emergency" warning on Darfur.


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